Posts Tagged ‘reading’

9 March 2023

The Evening Gull begins with Derek driving to Jeannie’s funeral. Then Derek made a champion effort to be strong, to take care of himself and not let anyone see him falling apart.

Some passages and the thoughts they inspired…and would-be conversations with Derek. If I had been one of his neighbours, I would have asked if I could volunteer to help out with his garden during these last years.

It becomes even more clear how Derek and Jeannie’s experiences in World War II had influenced their decision to move to the Cornish coast. I am now reading Went the Day Well. his mid-war book of memorials of people who died in WWII, from soldiers to airmen to women volunteers in English cities, and it brings it home even more strongly.

From The Evening Gull: “…we were living in a vacuum. There were so many, much less fortunate than Jeannie and me, who felt the same. During the war, everyone had a worthwhile, selfless purpose, and our lives were virtually governed for us. The war had to be won. We were all together. Now we had become flotsam and jetsam, floating aimlessly along towards nowhere.”

And oh, how I wish someone would release Derek’s actual diaries. However, in The Minack Chronicles Revisited, John Nash wrote about how a trustee was charged with going through all of Derek and Jeannie’s papers after Derek died and destroying anything of a “personal or sensitive nature”. So I wonder if the diaries still exist. I would love a series like Christopher Isherwood’s diaries, which filled up a winter for me a few years ago.

I agree with Derek’s assessment of life. He would be so horrified by the cruelty of modern social media (especially since 2015).

He remained impassioned about the preservation of wildness and the character of Cornish villages. This was years before Walmart and Home Depot and other massive chains that we have in this side of the pond.


When I first moved to the Long Beach Peninsula in 1992, a local literary journal called “From the Woods of the Lost Corner” well described the feeling here. I was told I should not move here unless I could entertain myself (not a problem!). There was plenty of cheap and shabby housing for artists and dreamers (and service workers!), and there were still some old-timers who, it was said, had never left the peninsula in their entire lives. We called ourselves eccentrics and “end of the roaders” who had gone as far west as possible and then settled here.

I fear the same thing has happened to our area as happened to Cornwall, but with one big difference. A lot of dreamers have moved here and want to change some of the anti-environmental traditions such as driving on the beach, which has now gone way beyond the old days of some trucks driving along to pick up driftwood for their wood stoves or to dig some clams. The beach is a busy thoroughfare of tire tracks now, and maybe the incomers can get it preserved for wildlife and nesting birds (like the threatened snowy plover).

John Nash’s biographical chapters in The Minack Chronicles Revisited reveal that Derek was remembered kindly by people who had worked for him. I like that he wanted to give one worker proper credit for his work:

There were some very interesting revelations about Jeannie and Derek’s relationship in the books published after she died. I remembered my former spouse, Robert, when we were working full time as gardeners, laughing about the idea of an open marriage, “When would we find the time?”

Derek wrote, “...our happiness had not been built on a placid life. We had our rows, our anxieties. We were not always virtuous in the conventional sense. We had learned…that frustration threatens happiness. Satisfy frustration, therefore, and happiness endures. We lived, therefore, dangerously and did so because deep, deep down we knew that we belonged totally to each other, and that we were each other’s harbour. We had learnt, too, that unsatisfied frustration can turn small incidents into major ones.

Perhaps when I finally get the biography called Tangye, all will become clear. Allan ordered an affordable copy on eBay (like most of these books, it was out of print and some copies cost over $50). Its tracking number showed it arriving at our post office, where it simply disappeared and did not make it into our post office box. My frustration knew no bounds. We now have another, more expensive copy on the way…I HOPE it makes it all the way into my hands this time. [Update as of March 26th…the first copy never turned up, the second copy has been stuck for several days in New Jersey, and I have now ordered a THIRD copy which hasn’t even been packed yet!]

That olearia that I wanted, because Minack had it, did not make it through the winter after Jeannie’s death. (The Veronica bushes were hebes, perhaps.)

Quite to my surprise, Derek had decided that he hoped for a new relationship. He wrote of it in the way in which he had written of “men” and “girls” back during the war (girls being adult women), and he still had that habit in the late 1980s, when he was in his late 70s; he wrote that there might be a “girl” in his future. But, really, he meant “I was seeking a Jeannie. Now I could only look forward to steppingstones leading me nowhere. I was not, however, as despondent as I sound. The steppingstones might be delightful. Jeannie would be glad.”

Speaking of “men and girls”, AKA adult women, Derek wrote about Jeannie’s freedom from needing equal opportunity in Jeannie and does it again with this: “her laughter…sparkling fun…long dark hair, slim exquisite figure, her ability to enchant anyone who came to see her, operating in a man’s world without any need for Equal Opportunity laws to make her job secure, relying on her femininity, her common sense, her expertise, her sex appeal.”

Oh, Derek. Do women who could not simply enrapture their way through the working world the way Jeannie did not deserve equality? And the chef who “chased her around the tables”…he says Jeannie thought that was just a bit of fun, and sexual harassment was not a problematic thing. Yet in my world, going back to the mid-1970s, my friends and I were entering the traditionally male trades. I went to printing school, other women friends were electricians or welders or carpenters and faced intense hostility and harassment both sexual and life-threatening (deliberately caused would-be accidents to women workers). I went in 1977 for an interview for a printing job with the Environmental Protection Agency and the men stuck pornographic slides among the images in a slide show about the company. (I walked out of that darkened room while they laughed.) Printing jobs suddenly turned to receptionist jobs when I walked in the door. Those women I knew persevered and fought on to have successful careers at the top of their trades. Many women (like me) can’t “enchant” our way to equality and have to rely on skill and hard work. I couldn’t even enchant my way into a printing job.

I have a feeling that, despite the many ways that I like Derek for his eloquent love of animals and nature and gardens, he might not have liked me (“femininity” and “sparkling fun” are far from traits of mine and I am every bit as outspoken as Derek was), and that makes me sad, since the world of Minack does enchant me so very much.

10 March, 2023

Skooter and I read the next book.

Derek had visitors who had not heard of Jeannie’s death. Especially, I would imagine, Americans, because even now British books are published here months later, if at all. He had to break the news about Jeannie’s death to any visitors who came hoping to see her before they had read Jeannie. Biographer John Nash described it as the “agony” of telling them; sometimes, visitors would burst into tears (as I would have). He continued to be welcoming of visitors, who often said things like “I feel very nervous arriving here uninvited. I feel sure you must get tired of people calling and interrupting you.” He wrote, “I endeavour to be natural by saying what I truly feel… that it is an evergreen privilege to share Minack with those who, though living far, far away, have become involved, and are prepared to come nervously down the winding lane, and across Monty’s Leap.”

So I continue to come down the winding lane with conversations I so wish we could have had.

Derek remained insecure. He had gone to a posh school but had failed all his exams, he had two brothers who were successful at school, and even in his appearance some years before on Desert Island Discs, he remembered a schoolmaster telling him he was useless to society. He wrote, “…when I write about emotion, I feel inhibited. I have an irking sensation that someone is looking over my shoulder laughing at me….And it is a quirk in me that I vision the someone to be very clever, someone of high intellectual ability, who has the qualifications of …the influential elite.” Again, I feel so akin to Derek. This blog is full of passages that I have written and then deleted, although they secretly linger in earlier drafts. I don’t envision the laughing ones being intellectually elite as much as mean bullies, though, who scoff at sentiment and insecurity. A revelation: When I think “Derek wouldn’t like me!” it ties right in with my motto, borne from experience, of, “The more you know me, the less you’ll like me.”

Derek’s thoughts on the afterlife: “Our personal attitudes also shared the theory that for a departed one to tie themselves to earth life because those they left behind are wishing to remain in contact could be like the break-up of a love affair…the one who wants to break away, the other tries to maintain it.” (On the other hand, Jeannie said passionately that her spirit would stay at Minack and protect it, and they felt that the spirit of all their beloved, departed animals were there.). But about the afterlife, Derek “remains puzzled.” Letters from mediums saying they had been visited by Jeannie came from afar. He thought, smiling to himself, “What was Jeannie up to? What was she doing dropping in again on a complete stranger and discussing her private life? So unlike her.”

I just think that the Minack books were so compelling to people (like me) that the ones who fancied themselves to be mediums wanted for Jeannie to contact them.

Another topic: Derek had a canny understanding of how the news cycle works:

He had been a journalist in his thirties and had, in fact, quit a job when his editors wanted him to write acidic gossip about society figures. I remembered how my former spouse, Robert, told me about taking a photojournalism course. The teacher said if you see a truck with a big dog in it, you must walk up to the window and make the dog snarl and bark to get a good photo.

Like Derek, I find it a huge relief in recent years to not have to do anything for holidays. Pre-pandemic, social occasions called, and I always wished I could just be at home: “I was happy on my own on Christmas Day. I enjoy being solitary. I did not have to make a jovial effort, wear a paper hat, pull crackers, all very happy-making for most people, but not for me. I instead had the soothing pleasure of Creation around me. I walked around, saw the first green bud of a daffodil, heard curlews calling….smelt the sweet scent of the heliotrope, listening to the dancing gull on the porch roof, no man-made sounds…peace.”

After the cat Ambrose had died, his only steady companion was little Cherry, whom he describes so beautifully here.

I now had the very last book to read, my second book of the day. I did not want it to be over.

The Confusion Room had even more repetition that previous books and was somewhat longer, revealing, I think, that even though Derek refused outside editing on his books, Jeannie must have been an editor. He had described in a previous volume how she didn’t like his original ending of The Cherry Tree and he had changed it for the better. There is one social problem that he goes on a tangent about twice in this last book that I think she would have completely kiboshed, at least the second time, so I do think she had a gentling influence. [I read later in a biography that his editor did remove a couple of political passages from this last book, so I am wrong about no editing.]

The title refers to a room in the stables where Derek stored all his old papers and letters and documents, which he hoped to get all sorted out. In the early days of the flower farm, it was where Jeannie and Jane and Shelagh bunched the flowers, so many different kinds. I can just picture in my mind the Cornish posies and wish I had been one of the women bunching them.

As he braves The Confusion Room, I can relate to his thought of “How was I to secure order out of chaos?” I have only six boxes and a filing cabinet to sort through and have been putting it off for years.

That is what I will do. Next winter. I swear.

Here comes another of those mysterious revelations of Jeannie and Derek’s relationship….to which I wonder, living in deepest Cornwall, when did they…find the time?? In my distant past, in the anonymity of city life, and with more free time, I had a couple of relationships like that, so I am intrigued. Just one more thing I would love to have had a conversation about in his later years.

He goes on for a couple of pages without really explaining what he means. Of course, I am nosy. I can’t help it, after having read 15 memoirs out of 18 that said nothing of outside “casual friendships”. I am emotionally invested by now. I can only hope that Derek would be pleased to know he made me so curious.

And not longer after, he quotes one of Jeannie’s favourite sayings (which would be perfect for the inside of my front gate, since I prefer to not leave my property): “To be happy, never go beyond the garden gate.” Or as Prunella Scales said in the wonderful telly series, Great Canal Journeys, she “didn’t like to open the front door to put the milk out!” Who would want to leave this:

And then the end of the book came…which caused me a strong emotional pain and recurrent tears for two days. And even now, thinking about it, I truly can hardly stand how sad it makes me feel. I also think it is such a shame that most of these books are out of print and, one biographer suggests, are increasingly hard to find.

Derek did not intend The Confusion Room to be his last book. When he died a couple of years later, without leaving Minack even at the end, he was already making notes for a book called Shadows. Somewhere I read that it was to be a memoir about his time in MI5, now that the story could be told. Later in Echoes from a Cornish Cliff by Pauline Ruffles, I read that it was to be about the circle of life and “the spirits of Minack”, his loved and lost animal companions and Jeannie. There is so much more I want to know. Were his last two years contented ones? Did he have a cat with him or was it just him and the donkeys, and how could a cat lover stand to live alone without a cat? This question bothers me, and I hope that biography that I am STILL waiting for answers it. [In Echoes from a Cornish Cliff, read from March 21-23, I learned that he only had one catless year after Cherry died. And he did manage to die at Minack, resisting all efforts to convince him to move to a nearby care home. [As of March 26, I am still waiting for the biography simply called Tangye. When I finally read it, I will likely write one more book post about the three biographies, two of which I have read by now.]

Meanwhile, I comfort myself that Jeannie and Derek had over thirty years together at Minack Cottage, and as she often said, they were so very lucky in that. The beginning…from A Gull on the Roof

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9 March 2023

I had come to the last book of Jeannie, which I imagine that Derek wrote as a way to process his grief; it was published a year after the previous book, instead of the usual two years. It was somewhat longer than the other books and was comforting in that most of it was about their last year together, along with the usual memories of their past life in sophisticated London.

Some light was cast from reading, over a week later, a biographical essay by John Nash in a book called The Minack Chronicles Revisited (which includes a fiftieth anniversary reprint of the first Minack book, A Gull on the Roof)….It was Jeannie’s memoir of her years as publicist for the Savoy Hotel (Meet Me at the Savoy) that brought much needed money to the Tangyes, money that paid for the digging of their water well.

Some favourite passages and the thoughts they inspired:

I loved how kind she was to the visitors who found their way to Minack cottage.

It had become clear to me as the books progressed that the deaths of their many friends during the war (like one man who said to Jeannie, looking out the window of her office at the Savoy before his next flight over Germany, that he knew he wasn’t coming back this time) had a lot to do with their desire for a quiet country life.

In the scene below, I would be Jeannie, talking about Long Beach, and Derek would be Allan, saying we can’t keep doing this forever just so tourists won’t be disappointed. (The Scillonian was the ship that took folks to the Isles of Scilly.)

But the joy of making passersby happy keeps me going.

(Derek shared some correspondence with an Irish writer named John Stewart Collis, I added another book, While Following the Plough, to my list of obscure (on this side of the pond) books. Collis was popular enough at the time to have a biography written about him. My budget is going almost as much to books as to plants this year.)

Jeannie often said to Derek, “Aren’t we lucky!” She knew that they had been fortunate to make the move to Cornwall while it was still affordable.

It is the same about moving to the coastal community on the Long Beach Peninsula; it has become unaffordable for many people to either buy or rent. I made the decision to move here in 1992 and be a gardener at the same age, 38, that Derek was when he and Jeannie left London. I did it just in time, while it was still affordable here. I didn’t find their kind of a dream home, though. It would not have existed at any time here, since any view of the beach would include vehicles using it as a highway. I pondered whether anywhere in Washington would have a place with as much privacy as they had, and thought no, not without a million dollars. Then I remembered Markham Farm, which does have that peace and privacy and non-driving beach that Minack offered, and which was acquired “in time”.

Jeannie contains two pages of excerpts from their gardening diary, back when potatoes were their second main crop. OH how I wish someone would just publish a book of these diaries:

Jeannie never faltered in their mission even when they didn’t have money for even a postage stamp.

I share Derek’s thoughts about Prince Charles, in this story about the cats having saved the tulip planting from being eaten by mice.

Also speaking of fey eccentricity, I think Derek and Jeannie would have enjoyed the “cottagecore” movement on, say, instagram (even though Derek had such a thing against “the computer age” even back in the 60s). Minack would not have been such a quiet existence with social media and Google earth; back then, followers had to make a real effort to find it.

I love Jeannie’s view of what the nature reserve they had managed to acquire next door should be like: NOT a place for tour groups and busy sightseers.

I wish I had Jeannie to help me save the frog bog next door to us. (And I do think nature programs can make us feel; Springwatch, and Autumn and Winterwatch definitely inspire emotion.)

After the description of a very good year, came the inevitable for any reader who had done some reading outside of the books. I knew it was Jeannie’s last year. Biographer John Nash suggests in The Minack Chronicles Revisited that Derek might have been in denial about her illness, and indeed, he describes being shocked when doctors said to him that he was about to experience a terrible blow. I think maybe Jeannie knew more than she told him, because the way she handled it is the way I think I would.

I could hardly bear the rest of it, which Derek handled by simply sharing his diary entries from those weeks.

Their neighbour, David (John Le Carre) wrote the eulogy for her funeral.

Jeannie’s ashes, and later Derek’s, were placed in the Honeysuckle Meadow, part of Oliverland. Derek had described it earlier in the book.

When I came to the end, with a deluge of tears sliding down, I found taped into the back cover of the book the obituary written by David after Derek himself died ten years later. I had been unsuccessful at finding it online, so thank you so much to whoever owned this book before me.

Now I have but three more books, the ones that must be the saddest, the years without Jeannie.

photo from the wonderful website, MinackInfo.

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Wednesday, 8 March 2023

With surprising good weather turning a planned reading day into a work day, we made the first visit of the year to two gardening jobs.

Diane’s garden

Shortly after we started to weed, our good friend Holly came running…but passed us and ran next door across a big field to the Red Barn. Soon she returned to where I was weeding the septic vault to get the biscuit that I had ready in my pocket.

Diane then appeared; she had been at the barn and “wondered what Holly was so excited about!”

After finishing the vault tidying…

I tidied up the containers around the back porch and then joined Allan in the front garden, clipping and weeding..

Stipa gigantea

We will return after St Patrick’s Day to plant sweet peas along the picket fence.

The Red Barn

We clipped and tidied the garden…

..and saw our good friend Cosmo for the first time in three months…

..and our good old friend Bentley.

Quinn stole his biscuit! But he got another.

I made a new friend, a darling black Labrador, who sat on my foot.

Holly came back for seconds.

Someone left a message for Skooter.

Cosmo might have liked to come home with us.

at home

Back home again, I deserved a nice cuppa Builders.

the work board tonight

The Cherry Tree

But could there be a day without a Minack book? No, there could not. I had been longing all day for the next book.

Derek wrote about the cherry tree where a tiny black cat appeared (and of course, Jeannie fed it, and then he did, too). He mentions that the garden there included an Olearea solandri. Now I simply must have one; I hear perhaps Cistus Nursery has one (but not mail order-able).

As the books progressed, so did Derek’s compassion for the inequities of life.

…treasure their luck.

This passage about fog reminds me so much of life in the tiny house where I lived, west of the boatyard, mostly in the shade, from 1994-2010.

Derek then goes on to describe how they had slugs in the house! At least we were spared that, except for tiny ones that rode in on the cats’ fur.

I think many bloggers will have experienced the connection with others that Derek’s memoirs brought about. And I feel, oh how I feel, for the man who was made redundant. I could describe how he felt from my recent experience with work. (None of it having to do with the Long Beach job, which is fine.)

I was ever so pleased when Derek began to write at length in this book, and in later ones, about how both he and Jeannie were untidy. Further soul-mate-iness betwixt me and them.


Sadly, Beverley Nichols had died and would no longer be visiting. They reminisce…

Another story of Beverly, when visiting their mutual friend, Marion Spring (who wrote a gardening book, out of print, which I have now ordered); he was shown a doll house belonging to Marion:

Derek, a former disliker of cats, who had grown to love a succession of feline companions over the past 20 plus years (Monty, Lama, Oliver, Ambrose, and now Cherry), had learned to understand feline ways.

By the way, if our cat Nickel does this to you, he truly does want a good long belly rub. If Skooter does, maybe you could risk trying, but if Faerie does, beware!

I had finished The Cherry Tree by bedtime…

…and tomorrow and the next day rain was promised. Four more books to go, and the next one is the last of Jeannie’s life on earth. I finally fell asleep with a feeling of sorrow.

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7 March 2023

[I was thinking how much I would have liked to talk with Derek and Jeannie, whose many visitors are quoted in biographical information as saying how kind and welcoming they were to visitors. I just realized as I proofread this post on March 23rd that these posts are my way of having that back and forth conversation that I missed out on in real life.]

At last, my next Minack book arrived. But who would place a sticker over a cat’s face? At least I managed to reveal Ambrose’s eyes.

What it should should look like…

The book is dedicated to Beverley Nichols (cat loving garden writer; I have all his books).

The value of keeping a diary…


That value was clear to me when I read my diaries of 1976-1978, and found out there were things I had completely forgotten, and now, I can hardly remember anything but a few highlights of years 1981-1984, when I kept no written record at all.

As you must know by now, if you have been following my obsession, Derek and Jeannie operated a daffodil farm on Cornish cliffs, and the books have a wealth of information about my favourite flower.

There had been more plant thievery from the daffodil fields, reminding me of when I had 100 plus daffodils in bud at our boatyard garden, only to show up to weed the next day and find every single one had been picked overnight.

Jeannie and Derek still persisted in not having a telephone.

I am soothed by the nature writing and love of cats, donkeys, birds, foxes and badgers in the chronicles, yet I think what sparks my obsession is also the flaws I share with Derek.

In The Ambrose Rock, the peace of Minack Cottage is threatened by an ugly development right next door (I can relate to that!).

Never before had my worries been so precisely echoed by the Tangye’s current crisis:

Although I will say that if housing for the homeless were to be put next door to us, I would not object, because it is just about the most important need in the town where I live. However, it would have to be an environmentally aware and non-destructive build to keep me on its side.

Now this could be a scene from my own household:

(Jeannie speaks, and…)

Right after that, Derek fully reveals what has been hinted at, that he and Jeannie each have their own separate cabin for writing (Derek) and for writing and painting (Jeannie). And again, they know how lucky they are.

While it would be hard to choose a favourite of the chronicles, The Ambrose Rock with the tale of the possible development next door would be at the top if I could only read, say, three of the books.

I immediately opened the next book. (They are less than 200 pages each.) How I would love a truly quiet year…not likely to happen here.

This is one of the three I had brought back from a visit to the UK but had never read, because at the time I couldn’t get hold of the rest of the series.

Again, Derek tells the story of how they came to Minack. (The books were meant to be read two years apart, as published, not two a day.)

Here on the SW Coast of Washington state, we almost old-timers see new people move here and then express dismay and astonishment about the rain and the winter storms. Some of them do last only a year.

Derek and Jeannie “sometimes hadn’t the money to buy a gallon of petrol”, and for the first eight years, they had no intention of writing about their life in Cornwall, so their only income came from their market farm. [Later, I learned that Jeannie’s memoir, Meet Me at the Savoy, written during those years, financed the digging of their well.]

I love that Jane, who used to work for them (see A Drake at the Door) was a self taught gardener who ended up with an excellent horticultural career.

I have read online that Jane, who must be older at least fourteen years older than me, is the person who lives at Minack Cottage now.

I love when Derek waxes on about the daffodils.

More of Derek’s flaws, with which I identify, and would love to have had a long talk with him about it. (I also wish I knew another Minack reader and that we could have long discussions about the books.)

Because our next door frog bog is under threat (the latest thing we’ve heard is it will be “put in a culvert”), I appreciate when Derek tells a good frog story.

Derek speaks of weeds:

I would like a garden bed with all the same plants Jeannie and Derek grew. I sometime grow arctosis (African daisy), especially the ones with spoon petals. I can’t find anything online about Ascania violets, which he often mentions; I do grow alyssum and tobacco plants and daffodils, of course. I finally figured out, from a biography that I read later, that their “verbena bush” was a lemon verbena; he used to give fragrant leaves of it to visitors. One of his dislikes, which I share, is the pushiness of orange montbretia.

I now had five more books, only one left before Jeannie died (at just two years younger than my age now, intolerable!). This was causing me emotional distress, like physical pain, to think of her fate, and of Derek without her, and also to think of being done with the series. By tomorrow evening, I expected to come to the end of Jeannie’s life….but dry and sunny weather intervened. This may be a relief to anyone who is tiring of my one track mind about Minack.

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reading five books

2 March, 2023

After my last Minack book till the next one arrives, I read an interlibrary loan of the memoir of the darling Miranda Hart, about her life with a canine best friend. I enjoyed all of it, but this one passage perfectly described my current mood about life (all brought on by an unfortunately work situation, maybe some of it also because of related thoughts about getting old).

The rest of the book perked me up. In fact, the sad paragraph perked me up because it described my feelings so perfectly and yet made me laugh.

3 March 2023

Oh joy, the next book in Mark Wallington’s travel memoirs had arrived. It was almost as funny as 500 Mile Walkies.

If you google up an image of Mark Wallington and Boogie, you will find that Boogie was a larger and handsomer dog than the book covers suggest.

Along with the humour of taking a little boat and a big personality dog on a quest for the source of the Thames, Wallington has a knack for describing nature.

And as a former jobbing gardener, which he wrote about in The Day Job, he has an ear for a good gardening chinwag.

4 March 2023

The next day, I went on another excursions with Mark Wallington and Boogie. It was as funny and charming as the first two books, although 500 Mile Walkies does have the edge of being set in Cornwall.

More garden talk:

I immediately followed with Mark’s next travel book, this time without Boogie, who must have been gone by then…a sad thought. What a dog! He would not have had a good time traveling on this spontaneous one man ukulele open mic tour.

Although the book was as full of the so satisfying Wallington humour, there was one moment that took my breath away. There had been a poem that I had found some years ago and shared on Facebook because it got to me so much. I had been trying and trying to remember it; all I could recall is that it mentioned some sort of sound (bells?) and some locations (villages?) but no…it was birds, and counties.

Traveling by train….

I immediately knew that I had found the poem I had sought. I tried to read it to Allan but started to cry too hard to get the last four lines out.

Adlestrop, by Edward Thomas

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—

The name, because one afternoon

Of heat the express-train drew up there

Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.

No one left and no one came

On the bare platform. What I saw

Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,

And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,

No whit less still and lonely fair

Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang

Close by, and round him, mistier,

Farther and farther, all the birds

Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

I was pleased when Mark visited Conwy Castle on his journey from open mic to open mic. I have been there and remember it well, although I don’t remember tourist guides in costume.

What I do remember is how interesting it was to look down into surrounding gardens from castle walls.

And I have been in Skipton.

I feel so fortunate to have discovered the Mark Wallington books, all because Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path memoir mentions 500 Mile Walkies as an inspiration. I do hope he writes another memoir, with or without a dog. There is one more, without Boogie, about a trip to Lapland (or so the title suggests), which is on its way to me.

5 March 2023

I had from the library the sequel or companion book to the amazing Life After Life.

Like Life After Life, some of the book takes place in WWII, this time not so much the London Blitz but the experiences of a bomber pilot from the same family. It was mesmerising. Another part of the book includes nature columns written by one of the characters, just wonderful. Kate Atkinson can write anything!

There are quite a few enjoyable excerpts from the nature column.

When one of the characters was…

…I got choked up because, what I haven’t been able to stand to write about yet, some gardens I love (and made) are under a vague threat of being dug up, and I WILL mind.

But wait, look, there is Adlestrop again!

So if I hadn’t found it in The Uke of Wallington, I would have found it here and would have recognised “all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire“. Amazing.

Two images of death were chilling, and then comforting. “She was preparing….

And this, which is the way I think about it most of the time. “A handful of heartbeats…that’s

Just as with Life After Life, there is a page in this novel where something happened that so surprised and asoptunded me that my head rose off my shoulders and floated around the room. You will know when you get there.

Allan said to me, re the blog, “There hasn’t been much gardening lately.” The snowdrops and allotments from books do count for something, though. And I did take a walk around the garden to show just how very reading-friendly the weather has been.

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late February 2023

Some years ago, I was thrilled to become Facebook friends with Anne Wareham, author of The Bad Tempered Gardener (which I blogged about here). She recommended to me the books of garden memoirist Marion Cran, long out of print. I adored them, meant to blog about them, and got too busy to give them their due. I hope to live long enough to revisit that series after we retire and write about how wonderful they are. Like the Minack Chronicles, I cried sentimental tears over Marion Cran. It’s something about finding a kindred spirit who is long gone.

Anne also recommended an old and out of print book which I simply could not find nor could Allan (unless one was willing to spend a lot of money). Suddenly, while trying again, I found it in the public domain on Google, and so can you. It made the perfect reading while waiting for the next Minack book.

Here is the best (partial) image I could find of the original cover, on a copy I could not afford. The author is Constance O’Brien.

And here are my favourite passages and what they made me think about.

I have often thought it would be nice to live in the time of a garden club, with simpatico members who were not wealthy fine ladies. The group herein had modest city gardens.

Like a modern Facebook group, they had questions to answer for prospective members.

And it was interesting to me that great deal of their activity, at the turn of the century, was through written correspondence, so perhaps in the modern world they would have had a social media group, and a very welcoming one indeed. I can think of one gardener I know who perhaps would not be able to answer affirmatively to question one: Laurie Graves, who lives where her garden is covered by winter snow. Although she does post photos of her garden covered in snow, and that’s taking an interest.

That is beautiful and worthy of a sign in my garden!

And this is insightful, about copying designs without deep insight into gardens of another culture, a very modern thought for a book published before 1912. (I have found some copies available to buy online today but haven’t been able to track down the exact publication date.)

Below: Perhaps to some passersby, I am the elderly lady, just as when I was a child I would pass by a beautiful garden whose owner I called “The Nice Lady” because she always spoke kindly to me.

Clearly, the Elderly Lady’s front garden was a gift to the street, or what garden writer Lucy Hardiman calls a garden approach instead of a garden retreat.

Below reminds me of how, in Seattle, people would tell me they walked down my street to the store just to see my parking strip garden.

And here is my front garden from 1988 through 1992. (I think I might have best liked its early incarnation of exuberant annuals):

I had no idea that “the cult of the dead stalk” went back as far as 1912. I am a member of that cult because it is good for bugs and critters.

Constance was not a member of that cult.

One of the Garden Guild members described herbaceous perennials as “plants with souls which come back in spring with new bodies.” And this..

Constance mentions a book called Letters from a Little Garden by a Mrs. Ewing, which I would love to find.

Who among you wants to be a member of the Guild of the Garden Lovers? I certainly do.

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late February 2023

I have owned this book since a trip to the UK in 1990, where I bought three of them but had never read them. I had realized they were a series and am always determined to read a series in order. They were hard to find here before internet buying and so had languished on a shelf. Now, reminded of the series while reading the Cornish setting of The Salt Path, I had read the first two books, A Gull on the Roof and A Cat in the Window and could finally read this one that I had owned for decades, one of the most beloved of the series that delves deep into the workings of Derek and Jeannie’s daffodil farm and off-the-grid life in 1950s coastal Cornwall. They had left a high society life in the city for country seclusion, without even a road to their cottage. Jeannie had been a publicity director at the very fine Savoy Hotel; Derek had been a journalist and a member of MI5. In the books, he always give her credit for giving him the courage to keep working their rural flower farm even when it seemed that it might not succeed.

Derek’s wife, Jeannie, and their helper, a teenager named Jane, were tadpole rescuers.

This was twenty years before the Coast Path walked by Raynor and Moth Winn and Mark Wallington. (When the path did appear, Derek and Jeannie were supporters of the idea, as long as cliff farmers were asked which route would be best to pass their cultivated fields.)

Thoughts of Monty, their beloved orange cat who had turned Derek into a cat lover (although at that time, he thought he would never have another, that Monty was the pinnacle of catdom and none other would do.)

Meanwhile, Skooter and the Greys snoozed away the reading day on a comfy chair.

Derek’s thoughts about animals were exemplary, something that increased in him after he moved to Minack (and had learned to like cats as well as dogs). Boris is the drake of the title.

The passage below reminded me of the infuriating moment when a drone flew over my head while I was turning my compost.

I liked the idea that Jane had of how to deal with such problems (in this case, Dutch bulb sellers who had sold them daffodils that were not good sellers in the flower markets).

(…an imaginary bow and arrow). That might be the only violent (imaginary) scene in the entire series, other than some real life memories of World War II.

I appreciate the candor with which Derek ponders his flaws. This was a continuing theme throughout the series, as was, in the early books, the financial difficulty of depending on flowers and veg to make their living, while at the mercy of coastal storms. They never regretted having left their glittering city life even during the early years when, as he revealed in later books, they didn’t even have money for enough petrol to go anywhere else.

Imagine picking daffodils for market while bent over in a gale..

It makes my job look easy.

Having now read three Minack books, I was entranced and eager to begin the next one. I couldn’t stop then to make a blog post about how much I loved the latest book because I couldn’t leave the feeling of being at Minack while reading. Even though I did stop for some telly with dinner in the evenings, the rest of the time was reading. Because each book is about 180 pages, I could sometimes read two a day, and as I read, I could hear the coast wind and imagine how it would feel to be picking the daffodils.

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23 February: snow and reading

Thursday, 23 February 2023

at home

We had a trace of snow.

The porch door slides shut which protects plants in the cold nights. I can’t plant my new ones in this weather.

On his way to get mail, Allan had a look at our volunteer garden at the Ilwaco Fire Department.

Skooter did not stay outdoors for long.

By afternoon, the snow was gone and Allan took a photo walk around the garden.

Acanthus ‘Hollard’s Gold’

Allan’s mother made that lantern.

one of our robins, looking almost as cute and round as a British robin
crocus and hellebore
fragrant flowers of Azara microphylla

The snow was gone but ice lingered with a forecast of another week of freezing nights.

more reading

Raynor Winn’s third memoir had arrived. I have been buying books that I simply cannot wait for the library to find for me. This perfect reading weather has made me choosy. I was waiting for the mail order arrival of some of the Minack Chronicles and more books by Mark Wallington; the latter two authors are mostly out of print.

How very much I love the writings of Raynor Winn.

I advise reading her memoirs in order: The Salt Path, The Wild Silence, Land Lines.

Another tale of what a glut of vacation houses does to a community, as is happening where we live:

The next day I read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. When all my friends were reading it back in the late 70s, I didn’t like memoirs. Now memoirs are my favourite genre. And look at this, years before modern social media:

Like me, Annie liked to stay on her home ground.

I liked but did not love Tinker Creek. Too many words, too much purple prose. (I cannot excuse or explain why I accepted and loved the similarly wordy prose of Derek Tangye and Beverley Nichols and Marion Can…Maybe in much older books, it’s a different shade of purple.)

Next, I read a new book which I had requested that the library buy:

The preface gave me a sense of kinship with the author.

To my surprise, the book turned out to be as much about plant cooperation as about animals. I liked the several pages about mixed woodlands, again reassuring me about planting conifers in my alder grove.

There is a much to learn from Sweet in Tooth and Claw.

Several Derek Tangye books had arrived in the mail and I could now embark upon three more in the series…

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Allan took a quick look at some beauties of Cape Disappointment while delivering books to the Lewis and Clark gift shop there.

Cape Disappointment lighthouse
alders with lichen

Meanwhile, I was reading a book I had learned about from Raynor Winn’s memoir, The Salt Path.

This is a glorious tale of a different sort of walk around the coast of Devon and Cornwall from the one decades later in The Salt Path. Mark Wallington camped in some rough weather but stayed in inexpensive B&Bs when the wind and rain were too dire and had the money to have a Cornish pasty in a pub or teatime in a cafe.

His tale is mostly hilarious with some poignant, heartfelt moments. From a night at a B&B, he learned of a lifeboat disaster that reminded me of tragic tales around Cape Disappointment, near me, where the Columbia River bar is known as the Graveyard of the Pacific.:

His walk must have taken him along the cliff in front of Dorminack Cottage, home of Derek and Jeannie Tangye of the 19 volume memoir series, The Minack Chronicles, which was just about to consume my life for almost a month and put a stopper in any desire to blog instead of read. (That’s where I’ve been, in my imagination.) Derek Tangye wrote of the same tragedy when it happened and several times afterward.

From 500 Mile Walkies, some scenes very near to Dorminack:

Below, I always love to read stories about what the locals think of tourists. I was a tourist in this same part of Cornwall in 1975. Now that I’ve been a local in seaside towns for a quarter of a century, I think I would be uncomfortable returning to the tourist role.

500 Mile Walkies is now one of my favourite books of all time, and up in the top ten of the funniest, and I intend to read all of Wallington’s books. I think it’s been out of print. I hope it being mentioned in The Salt Path will give it a huge boost. Two of the sequels feature Boogie, an adorable scamp of a dog (who in real life is bigger than I imagined from Mark’s description; I googled up some photos of the two of them).

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January 2023

Allan had found me an obscure old book as a Christmas gift. The first time he looked for it several years ago (after I read about it in one of Marion Cran’s memoirs), the only copies were over $100 each. This winter he had found one for a reasonable price.

It dates back so far that I doubt any of you would ever be able to see any copy but mine own. Since it is in the public domain, I will share snippets of some of the essays.

The Pleasure of an Orchard by William Lawson

The Gardener’s Philosophy by anonymous

on composting in winter

Old Fashioned Gardening by Margaret A. Paul

Landscape Gardening by Sir W. Scott


I like my garden better than…

The following essay hints at having destroyed a walled garden of “rooms” to make a more Capability Brown style open landscape.





Then, you wander to the wild end of ….

(Except for the stream, that’s just what my Bogsy Wood and willow grove are like on campfire nights now…)

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